Paul Rudin, ASTA"s senior vice president of legal and industry affairs, has released a list of counter points to the WomansDay.com article "9 Things Travel Agents Won't Tell You." ASTA said the article is "error-ridden" and that "uproar over the article presents an opportunity to educate journalists and consumers about travel agents' value." The organization added that, while WomansDay.com deleted one of the original points in its article (the original story included 10 points), eight of the remaining nine points "are inaccurate and misleading."
According to ASTA CEO Zane Kerby, further comment from ASTA is required because, among other reasons, "The inaccuracies in the WomansDay.com article are damaging to an industry that provides an invaluable service: helping us all see the world."
Among ASTA's counter points:
To the article's assertion that agents "make major commission," ASTA responded that cruise commissions have decreasing, competition is "ferocious," and "no agent can survive long by giving bad advice to earn a few extra bucks on a sale. Repeat business is critical to a travel agent's success; customer interests must, and do, come first."
To the articles assertion that agents "can't book (or price) all airline carriers," ASTA responded that, travel agents who still sell air can book on any airline, including Southwest, either as a stand-alone component or as part of a package. "Comparing packages, when to buy with miles, etc., are often so complex that the advice of an agent can be invaluable," ASTA said. "Most agents have access to pricing and content that the general public does not."
To the article's assertion that agents "may not have been to the hotel or on the cruise ship they're recommending," ASTA responded, asking whether retailers of other products can be expected to have used every product they sell. "If a travel agent were to lie about cruise or hotel amenities, they would quickly be out of the industry," ASTA said. "No one in a competitive market…can (or would) do what the writer suggests and get away with it."
To the article's advice to "be flexible with travel dates and airports" and its assertion that "your savings mean less commission for some travel agents, so they may not suggest being flexible," ASTA responded, "This is completely inaccurate. Since base commissions were abolished more than a decade ago…agents generally charge straightforward fees for booking air tickets and have a legal and practical responsibility to protect their clients' interests, even above their own."
To the article's assertion that "travel insurance may not be necessary," ASTA responded, "health insurance may not be 'necessary' either, until you get sick. Agents recommend insurance to help protect the considerable investment that consumers make in committing to travel plans, especially where a complex vacation experience is at stake. Insurance often makes sense and, in many cases, it avoids huge losses for the consumer. Railing at agents about recommending travel insurance is just plain silly."
To the assertion that agents are "best for milestone trips," ASTA said it agrees that agents are invaluable in planning milestone trips, but "a travel professional can also add value to a weekend getaway."
To the assertion that "online travel sites offer refunds and cancellation policies," ASTA responded that all types of agents provide refunds "in keeping with travel vendor policies and government regulations. This is at best a neutral in the choice between online and offline buying."
To the assertion that "a travel agent won't necessarily find the best price," ASTA responded, "Finding the 'best price' is not the same as finding the 'best value.' If it's only about price, everyone would just eat fast food, regardless of health concerns."
To the advice to "sign up (and use) a travel rewards card" and its statement that "a lot of people sign up for every reward program under the sun, and 80 percent never get anything," ASTA said, "We advise against making sweeping statements with no tangible evidence" in terms of how agents make money. "Agents make their money in different ways."